US justice department will ask Supreme Court to halt Texas abortion law

The US justice department will ask the Supreme Court to suspend a Texas law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, the latest move in a legal battle over the Republican-led state’s efforts to tighten restrictions on the procedure.

The new law, which has become a flashpoint for abortion rights and legal enforcement models in the US, was previously put on hold by a federal district court in response to a lawsuit by the justice department. That hold was lifted just days later by the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Anthony Coley, justice department spokesperson, said in a statement on Friday: “The justice department intends to ask the Supreme Court to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s stay of the preliminary injunction” against the Texas law.

The statute, deemed extreme even by conservative standards, prohibits abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, without exceptions for instances of rape or incest.

It also allows individuals to report people to the authorities for helping women have abortions, and to potentially receive at least a $10,000 payment for doing so. Experts have described the structure of the law as an effort to sidestep Supreme Court decisions that prohibit states from outlawing abortions before the foetus reaches “viability”.

In its lawsuit against Texas last month, the justice department argued the statute was “in open defiance of the constitution” and “deputises all private citizens without any showing of personal connection or injury to serve as bounty hunters”.

US district judge Robert Pitman last week sided with the justice department and ordered Texas to halt the enforcement of the law which came into effect on September 1, saying that “women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the constitution”.

Texas appealed, and the Fifth Circuit, which tilts conservative, quickly reinstated the state’s abortion law.

The Supreme Court, which is split 6-3 between conservative and liberal justices, had previously declined to block the law shortly after it took effect last month.

The case has raised concerns among legal scholars, activists and Democratic lawmakers that the justices could eventually overturn the legal precedent set by Roe vs Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for legal abortion nationwide.

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